Yoga Tips for Spinal Arthritis

Women work their hamstrings using bands.
Straight legged hamstring work with resistance bands can be very effective. lofilolo

If you’ve been diagnosed with spinal arthritis, your doctor or physical therapist may have given you an exercise program. Generally this involves doing range of motion and strengthening exercises several times per day to help you manage symptoms.

In the list below are instructions for and background about the most basic types of spinal arthritis exercises, which are range of motion and strength — in that order —  for low back and neck.

Note that these are meant to be informative only; please see your doctor or physical therapist if you need to get started with a program that directly addresses your medical condition.​

Add Some Spice to Your Spinal Arthritis Exercise Routine

Some people need to add variety to their workouts in order to keep the motivation alive. If that’s you, you might consider trying yoga in addition to your basic routine.

Debbie Turczan, a private practice licensed physical therapist and certified yoga teacher in New York says yoga can range in intensity from restful to athletic, and that people with spinal arthritis will likely benefit from therapeutic poses more than challenging ones.

Getting the right yoga workout for you is largely a matter of modifying poses so they fit your individual condition as well as your level of pain, she informs me.

"You also want to be sure you are not working in pain," she adds.

In order to achieve this fit, Turczan advises the strategic use of pillows and bolsters. The idea here is to pick your pose right and then set the pillows up so they both support your body and help you stretch, she says.

Yoga Poses for Spinal Arthritis

A supported version of child’s pose is the first pose Turczan recommends.

 For this one, position pillows or bolsters lengthwise under your trunk, and stay in the pose for up to 3 minutes. If you have stenosis, assuming supported child’s pose in this way may help open your spinal joints and bring pain relief, she says.

Legs up the wall is another therapeutic pose that Turczan recommends. In this case, she says, placing a bolster under your hips and also against the wall may help give extension to the spine. Be sure to keep the bolster parallel with the wall, as well.

“Legs up wall automatically decompresses the spine, and elevating hips decompresses it even more. “ 

The third therapeutic yoga pose Turczan suggests for spinal arthritis symptom management is to simply lie on your side with a pillow or bolster placed under your waist. You can add a stretch to the spine on the top side by bringing both arms over your head. This pose may help open your facet joints, Turczan adds.

Advancing Your Yoga Workout With Spinal Arthritis

For a slightly more advanced yoga workout Turczan says Warrior 1 and Warrior 2 poses, along with side angle pose, may help decompress the spine.

"As long as you support these poses using your abdominal muscles, they will train you to lift the ribs up off the pelvis."

Turczan cautions people with arthritis to move very slowly when transitioning between the warrior poses and from warrior pose to side angle pose.

Active Yoga When You Have Spinal Arthritis

The most advanced yoga workout for people who have spinal arthritis is a basic, no-frills yoga sun salutation sequence. Turczan says she recommends it because it takes your spine through flexion and extension movements without adding a twist. The key to making the sun salutation appropriate for spinal arthritis, she explains, is to proceed slowly and gently, and listen to your body the entire time. And if you experience pain with a more advanced yoga routine, she suggests backing off, and instead working with the supported poses.

What If You Have Other Spinal Problems in Addition To Spinal Arthritis?

If the only back condition you are dealing with is spinal arthritis, yoga may prove an excellent pain management choice, as well as a fun and fulfilling challenge.

But if you have multiple back issues, doing the poses discussed above is not a safe bet, Turczan warns. In particular, spondylosis or spondylolisthesis involve spinal fracture, an injury that does not respond well to side bending or twisting. 

If you do have spondylosis and/or spondylolisthesis in addition to spinal arthritis, Turczan suggests focusing on activities that decompress the spine. Examples include beginner core stabilization exercises and working out in water. Ask your doctor or physical therapist for guidance if you are at all unsure.

Source:

Telephone Interview. Debbie Turczan, MSPT, Clinical Specialist in Physical Therapy at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, New York, NY. Sept 2011.

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